ON-Lion Letter

"The Homestead Act of 1862 is one of America’s best-known and beloved laws," begins an article by Henry Olsen in the January/February issue of The National Interest.  "By giving away federal land for free to anyone who settled and cultivated it, the act enshrined the governing principle of the newly ascendant Republican Party: government should act to help the average man help himself build a better life. Together with the Land Grant College Act and the Pacific Railroad Acts, the Homestead Act placed the federal government squarely on the side of the average American in his or her quest to live in comfort and with dignity."

"Today we have no frontier, no untapped source of federal lands," Olsen continues.  "We do, however, have the same issue the Homestead Act tried to solve.  Millions of low-to-moderately skilled, native-born and immigrant Americans live in places where they can’t find decent work while a vast new economic frontier unfolds in Southern and Western states such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina.  These wide open spaces are enticing enough to encourage millions of Latin Americans to undertake dangerous and expensive journeys, yet millions of other Americans remain mired in ghettoes, depressed steel towns and struggling regions like Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta."

Olsen is as senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports his work.

In the article, he calls for "a new Homestead Act that reforms federal tax law, unemployment compensation, income-support efforts and welfare programs to encourage worker mobility.  First, it will give people information about jobs they can do in other states and subsidize their decision to pursue new horizons whether they receive income-support benefits from the federal government ... or from the states," he continues. 

"Second, where people are already receiving state-based benefits, such as Medicaid, housing vouchers or food stamps, it will make them fully transportable across state lines so that the fear of temporarily losing their benefits is no longer a reason to stay put."

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